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Ever since Gibson's infamous drunken racist outburst his career has tanked, at one stage not acting for eight years. Empowered by the success of the controversial Passion of the Christ, putting his beloved Catholicism head-to-head with Judaism on screen (and coming out clear winners over the story of the Crucifixion) he annoyed Hollywood’s influential Jews some more, his ecclesiastical power kick going to his head. That’s not a good idea in Hollywood. Others would say that loutish drinking binge was more about getting old and not getting good parts anymore. Those piercing blue eyes are now swimming against a tide of wrinkles. He is now in that fatal washed up drunken cop role territory Bruce Willis stagnated in, Expendables 4 beckoning for the likable Aussie, now the official retirement home of Hollywood’s action heroes.
A Felon (Gibson) is pursued across the desert by cops, smashing his car through the border fence to escape, the Mexican police waiting for him on the other side. They are about to hand the gringo back when they see a bag full of money in the car. The gringo is not going back to America and soon ends up in a notorious Mexican jail without his money.
There he quickly learns the ropes by befriending a 10-year-old kid (Kevin Hernandez) and deploys his unique set of skills to climb the prison hierarchy, a surprisingly communal place where you can get pretty much anything you want, from Coca Cola to a girl for the night.
The prison is run by mobster Javi (Daniel Giménez Cacho) and he has heard about the gringo and his money. Embassy guy (Peter Gerety) has also heard about the cash and fancies a big cut if he can get the Gringo out of jail. But the little kid has special status in the jail and something unique the mobsters want and in jeopardy if he stays and so now the Gringo has to get him and his mom out and still recover his money.
Left field with touches of Elmore Leonard and Tarantino this film is many different things, none more so than the return of Mel Gibson as the nod and a wink action hero. All the crazy stares and ticks are back and an enjoyable performance in an ok movie. But he looks old on screen and hasn’t really got that action presence any more the way Liam Neeson did in Taken as the ex military guy.
The communal prison scenario is based on fact in the Americas and women and children really do live in the same prisons as men there, little barrios (slums) within the barrios. The kid in question did cause controversy in the film as he is offered a cigarette by Gibson’s character and smokes it, the suggestion that a tobacco company paid for that scene to go in. As it was shot in Juarez it was deemed ok in the final cut because it reflects every day life in Mexico.
It would seem these days that we judge celebrities more on the scandal they are causing rather than the talent (if any) which got earned them their celebrity status to begin with. This currently seems to be very much the case for Mel Gibson, the former Hollywood golden boy whose volatile temperament and less than advisable comments regarding anyone who goes against his questionable world views. Still Gibson is still and for the most part of his career has always been a highly watchable actor and it's something he has clearly set out to remind us of once more here.
Opening with Driver (or atleast that's what we assume his name to be especially as it's only revealed in the credits) driving full speed towards the Mexican border, a dufflebag of cash and a clown dying of a gunshot wound in the backseat, as the gruff voice over of Driver suddenly kicking in to bring us up to speed, while confirming that we are not just watching the latest Gibson scandal.
After failing to Evel Knievel his car into Mexico, he now finds himself captured by the corrupt Mexican authorities, more than happy to relieve him of his loot, while also throwing him in a prison. Meanwhile mob boss Frank (Peter Stormare) is hot on his tail and willing to do anything to reclaim the loot for himself. Playing almost like a spiritual sequel to "Payback" Driver like Porter is a man who starts out with nothing, but soon manages to find a way to get exactly he needs, which is certainly made a lot easier by the prison he is sent to. Looking more like a replica of Tijuana's El Pueblito and as such looks more like a slum than anything resembling the traditional idea of a prison, especially with the convicts being allowed to set up their own society within the walls of the prison complete with shops, restaurants and even a smack hut, as they provide a trade for everything the local population might need. Needless to say it's only a matter of time before Driver has the prison sized up and is soon making plans to escape, by getting in with the prisons top dog Javi (Daniel Gimenez Cacho), while picking up an unlikely sidekick with an unnamed 10 year old (Kevin Hernandez) who while continually adding to his nicotine addiction is also plotting his own revenge against Javi.
A prison break slash revenge thriller, this film is hard to place in any one category, especially with the script playing loose and fast with the genre conventions, as Driver double crosses and blasts all who stand in his way, though compared to some of the criminal element in this prison he still seems almost saintly in comparison. Needless to say the plot plays out like a pulp crime novel, with the occasional burst of violence to shake things up.
Still if anything it has to be said that it is nice to see Gibson back to the sort of badass role which gave him his acting break to begin with and unquestionably the roles for which he is best remembered and it's perhaps because of the current scandals which surround his name and in turn any mainstream project he is attached to, that Gibson has chosen to make a film which will appeal more to his core fanbase, who remember him more fondly for the likes of "Mad Max" and "Lethal Weapon", than some of his more forgettable projects. To ensure maximum control Gibson also wrote and produced the film, while also promoting his assistant director of choice Adrain Grunberg whom he previous worked with on both "Apocalypto" and "Edge of Darkness" to the directors chair. As a result this has all the feel of being a pet project for Gibson, especially with the lead role only being designed to emphasise all of the qualities which made him so popular as an actor to begin with such as his mad blue eyes and effortless charisma.
For his first feature Grunberg shows great confidence in the director's chair as he is clearly aiming for breathless dynamism, while painting the film in hot reds and oranges and ensuring that the sense of danger is never far away. However were the film really comes into its own is with it's action sequences from it's opening high speed car chase shot using old school effects to the slow motion prison shootout, which see's Grunberg drawing inspiration from finale of Sam Peckinpah's "The Wild Bunch", as he ensures that each bullet wound and explosion is enjoyed to its fullest.
The supporting cast are all fun in their various roles with Hernandez getting the smart ass balance just right, so that he doesn't become yet another annoying smartass teen and provides a suitable if slightly random sidekick. Meanwhile the Stormare is in his usual drug snorting criminal role and sadly doesn't get a huge amount of screentime, but is still fun pulling out his usual performance for this kind of role, which he has spent most of his career playing. Cacho however it could be argued is far from the most threatening of bad guys, especially when he uses his henchmen to enforce his will on the other inmates as he lounges around in his bathrobe, but when it comes to playing the system he proves a worthy opponent to someone like Driver, especially with so many games being played, while convincingly also pulling off his much darker side.
Sadly with Gibson's popularity being on a downward spiral it is set to be released via Video On Demand under the title "Get The Driver", while his international fans will get to enjoy it in the cinema under its international title "How I Spent My Summer Vacation". Still with a role in the forthcoming "Machete Kills" it would seem that this might not quite be the swansong to Gibson's career which many critics have already begun to hail it as.
How I Spent My Summer Vacation
I thought I would give this a watch as I wanted to see what Mel Gibson was like these days. I don't tend to give to much thought to the media comments about people because ninety-nine per cent of them are false and conjured up to fill space in the respective magazines or newspapers, but Gibson seems to have had a hard time of it in recent years whether undeserved or warranted.
Before I talk about the movie let's do the usual and go over the story-line.
The movie begins with a compelling police chase at the US-Mexican border after a bank robbery. Two criminals are being chased and one is bleeding to death on the back seat. Both are wearing clown suits. A narrator cuts in to tell the audience what is occurring and we realise that the narrator is also the driver of the car.
Mel Gibson's character known as 'Driver' or a character with no name finds himself in 'El Pueblito', a prison that is set up like a village where prisoner's families can join them to live. He finds out his partner is dead and the corrupt Mexican border police have taken his two million dollars (not exactly his as he stole it). After a few anxious moments (not really that anxious) he befriends a kid (Kevin Hernandez) who is living in fear thanks to his relationship with the kingpin of the facility who is relying on the kid for a liver transplant after it is found that the kid shares the same rare blood type. The kingpin also took the kid's Father's liver in the recent past. After bonding with the kid and his mother, Driver tries to worm his way into the circle of the kingpin and his henchmen family in order to get his money back and save the kid's life.
Firstly, this movie is not to be confused with the stylish nineteen-sixty seven movie of the same name with Robert Wagner. I wish it was and did hope when I heard of the Gibson movie that it was going to be; sadly not. The Wagner movie was only a TV effort but it exuded class and was head and shoulders above the movie I am reviewing here. This movie was also released as 'Get the Gringo' in the U.S.
The opening scene to the Gibson movie was promising and the car chase along the U.S/Mexican border was well shot, so the first five minutes of the movie was OK. Then for some reason the next twenty-five minutes really grated on me and I almost turned it off. Gibson's narration seemed out of place at times and some of the attempts at humour were really lame. The movie does pick up a little after that and it kept me interested enough to see it through until the end; just about.
The Mexican prison 'El Pueblito' was a real prison in Mexico that was shut down after a riot similar to the one in this movie. The director Adrian Greenburg, who was directing his first movie, researched the prison and heard a lot of stories about it. Some of these stories he incorporated into the movie. He has also been quoted as saying that the humour in the movie was added to play-down some of the more violent scenes.
My opinion is that the humour was out of place and didn't mask or play-down the violence but trivialised it and made it too tame.
El Pueblito was an experiment which was run by the Mexican authorities. It was meant to integrate inmates into normal society by making them feel part of a community. In the movie it is mildly antagonising and Gibson looks like he is staying at a really bad holiday camp. In reality he would have had to watch over his shoulder every second and would not have slept or even eaten. In the movie he steals money in order to buy cigarettes and food to survive, but this would not have happened. He is the only white man in the prison in the movie and sticks out like a sore thumb. He would've been watched like a hawk and probably have been dead within weeks.
But before I get slammed for comparing reality to fiction, one of the things you know I hate, if you read my reviews, I will add that I am not saying this from a point of 'Oh that wouldn't happen in real life', I am merely pointing out that the movie displayed it in a really weak way, especially as Greenburg was going for realism and researched the real prison.
I think the prison in the movie should have been made to look more intimidating and scary. I didn't ever feel that Gibson's character was ever in any real danger, even when it was telling me he was on screen. I wanted to feel bad for him, even though he was a career criminal. I wanted to feel frightened by the prison and on the edge of my seat, but I wasn't.
Gibson for the main part played the part of Driver quite well but the moments for me when he slipped into Riggs territory (The character from the Lethal Weapon movies) were totally out of running with the rest of the movie. The only time it bore any relevance was in the scenes with Kevin Hernandez who played the young boy. In fact the one-liners and comedic quips that Gibson is known for are lost on this movie. It doesn't know whether to be funny or serious or both and ends up being neither. The humour may work with a charismatic cop who is thirty years younger and makes the ladies swoon but this character is meant to be a hardened life-time criminal, who is locked up in one of the most notorious jails of our time and it just does not fit.
I happen to like Mel Gibson regardless of some of the stupid things he has supposedly done. We all make mistakes and everyone deserves a second chance. I just don't think this is the movie (or was ever going to be) to put him back on the map. I'm sure the women will still love the cheeky smile and handsome rugged looks but let's not forget that Gibson has made some good movies and can act; it's just that this movie doesn't really showcase his skills.
Kevin Hernandez plays the part of the kid with real skill and is going to be a promising actor when he grows up. Some of his scenes with Gibson are funny and probably the only humour in the movie that actually works. He is also in some of the more tense scenes in the movie when the boss of the prison inmates seeks him for a liver transplant.
Dolores Heredia also does a good job in the movie as the kid's Mother.
Overall, the direction was well executed and the storyline was not bad. The acting was good for the most part too but for me the realism of the movie lets it down. I love prison films and one rule when making these movies is to make them realistic and hard-hitting. People have to feel scared and feel the oppression and claustrophobic limitations of the walls in a prison movie or it just doesn't work.
Granted that this prison was set up as a village where visitors and families could come and go and you could but food and cigarettes from shops set up in the prison, but it was also a prison full of guns and drug addicts and drug taking was rife. You do see that in the prison but it is not driven home enough and is not intimidating enough to bother or trouble the viewer. I would go as far as to say that if the prisoners or prison guards from the actual prison saw this movie they would have to visit hospital to have stitches in their splitting sides. I don't mean that to sound too harsh on the director or film crew as it is not total dross and they did make it quite well for what it is, but it will never find the upper levels of any ratings table for best prison movie.
There is one scene that is well directed and it is a shoot-out scene that
is filmed with slow motion cameras. The problem with it is that it is too much like a Tarantino shot. It is done well and Tarantino by no means owns the right to be the only director to shoot these scenes but he does it so well that you have to be on your game if you are going to follow suit. Greenburg does a good job with it but for me it is out of sync with the rest of the movie. It is almost as if a guest director appears for that scene; namely Tarantino.
The movie tries to pass itself off as film noir but in that sense it fails miserably. There is a certain kind of atmosphere to it but it is more 'Miami Vice' than 'White Heat' to be honest and won't be winning any awards in cinematography. I suppose that to be fair to the production crew, they were never going to get a much better result out of the budget they were working with, which was twenty thousand U.S dollars.
If you're looking for a mildly entertaining movie to while-away an hour and a half, then maybe this is what you are looking for. If you're expecting a raucous, hard-hitting prison movie then I would give it a miss because you will be disappointed. It's a no-brainer and I suppose it just about manages to do what it says on the tin; however ill-informed that label may be.
I would rate this movie as mediocre at best and give it two out of five stars for the acting and a good first effort on directing a movie.